8 people died from substance use in Yukon last month, coroner says

A sign posted in Mayo, Yukon, last month. That community is one of many in the territory to declare a substance use emergency. (Cheryl Kawaja/CBC)

‘This substance use crisis continues to be horribly difficult,’ says chief coroner

Yukon’s coroner provided another grim reminder on Friday of how deadly the territory’s ongoing substance use crisis has become, saying that eight people died within a three-week period last month.

“This substance use crisis continues to be horribly difficult and it is affecting all of us in the Yukon,” said Chief Coroner Heather Jones in a news release.

Jones confirmed that eight people died between April 7 and 27, all related to substance use. It follows an update a couple of weeks ago from Jones, which said that four people had died within a single four-day period.

Of the eight people who died last month, all but two were in Whitehorse. Jones said last month that there had been deaths in Watson Lake and Haines Junction.

Half of the eight deceased people were men, and half were Indigenous. All were aged between 22 and 52, and half appeared to have been alone when using substances, according to the coroner.

Not all the deaths involved opioids.

“Wave” of toxic drugs in the territory

Six of them involved cocaine — one was caused by cocaine poisoning, two involved cocaine and alcohol, and three involved cocaine and fentanyl.

One death involved cocaine, fentanyl and benzodiazepines in the form of etizolam and bromazolam. The coroner’s news release said little is known about the potency of bromazolam, but it’s believed to be similar to the prescription drug Xanax. It’s the first time bromazolam has been identified in an investigation by the Yukon coroner.

“What these findings show is that the source of these illicit drugs is inconsistent, and Yukoners need to be incredibly careful if they choose to use,” the news release reads.

So far this year in Yukon, there have been 11 confirmed deaths associated with substance use, and eight of them have involved opioids. Since April 2016, Yukon has recorded 85 opioid-related deaths.

The coroner’s announcement on Friday follows a recent warning from territorial health officials about a “wave” of toxic drugs in the territory. Those officials urged people to be extremely cautious about what they’re using, to get drugs tested, and to never use alone.

The territory has Canada’s highest per-capita rate of death related to substance use. The territorial government declared a substance use emergency last year, and several Yukon communities have done likewise in recent weeks and months.

Related stories from around the North: 

Canada: Town hall meeting called in Mayo, Yukon, to talk about drug crisis, CBC News

Finland: Finland’s alcohol consumption declines by 15%, Yle News

United States: Alaska’s drug problem worsening as police resources strained, Alaska Public Media

CBC News

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